The Philippine sports culture revolves around three games: basketball, volleyball, and boxing. Every now and then, though, there are sports that have become a topic among Filipino fans because a local athlete represents the country on the international stage.
Take rugby, for instance.
In recent years, Filipino athletes have proven to be formidable rugby players. This commonly male-dominated sport was introduced to the Philippines by British, Australian, and New Zealand expatriates in the late 1990s. And now, the Philippine national team, the Volcanoes, ranks in the top 50 international rugby league teams.
But the men aren’t the only ones on the pitch. Women are causing quite the stir in the Philippine rugby world. The Lady Volcanoes of the rugby 7s format-where teams of seven players each play for two seven-minute halves-are taking the lead in several campaigns.
Open Access BPO fintech Customer Support Rep Shiela Mae Patiño went from track and field to full-contact rugby right after college.
In fact, the Lady Volcanoes won the Asia Rugby Women’s 7s Trophy Series in Indonesia.
Now, the women players’ love for the sport will be passed on to the players in the Rising Stars development program.
The Rising Stars is an all-Filipino team that serves as the selection pool for future Lady Volcanoes players. One of the members of the Rising Stars is Open Access BPO‘s Sheila Mae Patiño. She and her team competed in the SEA 7s international rugby league at the Jurong West Stadium in Singapore last April 7 to 8, where they finished in third place.
From Customer Support Representative to Philippine Representative
Sheila has been playing rugby for nearly as long as she has been a customer service representative at Open Access BPO. A friend introduced her to the sport right after college.
“I was originally a track and field athlete from Grade 6 up until I graduated college. After I finished my studies, a friend of mine introduced me to full-contact rugby.”
While she was enamored with the sport, her parents were worried about her playing rugby. Still, there was some delight that their daughter represented the Philippines in an international rugby league.
“My parents were a bit opposed to me playing rugby since it’s a full contact sport but they’re still happy that I get to play in Singapore. Rugby is a full contact sport like American football but without the protective gear. We do a lot of tackling so we are prone to injuries. The only piece of protective equipment supporting us are our mouth guards.”
Sheila’s first rugby stint was with the Makati Mavericks, under the tutelage of Lady Volcano Rassiel Sales. Eventually, Sheila joined the Rising Stars program and the SEA 7s.
“I was able to qualify for the Rising Stars because of my performance and attendance in my local club. We only train once a week, so attendance is important aside from progress in each training session. Training was hard and my fellow players are good, but I am happy that I was selected for the SEA 7s.”
According to Sheila, rugby is a vibrant and a growing part of the local sports landscape.
“Just recently, we had the Manila 10s Festival, a yearly international tournament for both 7s and 15s formats. All local rugby clubs in the Philippines take part in the Manila 10s, so I can say that the rugby community in the country is very much alive. There are a lot of women rugby players in Western Visayas [Cebu], Negros Island [Bacolod], Clark in Pampanga, and here in Manila.”
Rugby isn’t just for men but also for women and children. The rugby community in the Philippines teaches Filipinos the values of camaraderie and sportsmanship, values that the Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU) cultivates in younger players through the ChildFund initiative.
Open Access BPO as Her Support Network
The SEA 7s is an international rugby league where this year’s host Singapore invited teams from all over Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. However, the PRFU is unable to provide full financial support to the Rising Stars in their campaign. So, Sheila and her team sought support from various organizations through a social media fundraiser.
Open Access BPO’s leadership team was there to help, expressing their willingness to assist the players in their rise to the top.
“The support from Open Access BPO is such a huge help to the Rising Stars. I am thankful to the company’s leadership team for what they gave us.”
Upon learning that one of Open Access BPO’s agents will have a significant milestone in her sporting career, the multilingual call center’s CEO Ben Davidowitz remarked:
“We believe in the power of teamwork, perseverance, and excellence, and we see those same values reflected in the Rising Stars.”
“By supporting Philippine rugby, we’re not only helping the players achieve their goals, but we’re also reinforcing those core values within our own organization and inspiring our employees to strive for greatness in their work.”
Sheila says she is thankful that Open Access BPO’s leadership team not only supported the Rising Stars financially but also cheered for them personally during the international rugby league in Singapore. She adds that she is glad that they were able to watch her in action on the field.
The Rising Stars and women’s team in their SEA 7s uniforms with the Open Access BPO logo
[photo credit: The Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU)]
The women’s division of the SEA 7s had four competing teams from the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Laos. Sheila knows better than to underestimate their opponents.
“Thailand is a pretty strong opponent because I heard one of its players is already a part of their national team. They joined the SEA 7s to prepare for future tournaments which they already qualified for.
“We’re not so sure about how strong Singapore is since they don’t have a national team yet. Laos is also a strong matchup for us since there is a rugby community in that country. Like Singapore, Laos also hosts rugby 7s and 15s invitationals.”
Playing in the selection pool for future national players is enough for Sheila, but her participation at the recent SEA 7s international rugby league is a bigger achievement for her as it is her first overseas tournament. Unsurprisingly, she was excited to be on the pitch during each game.
“Our first game with Laos ended in a loss. and I think it was because of the pressure and that we didn’t have enough time to prepare plus we were pressured.” Sheila recalls. “We fought harder during our second game with them, but the outcome didn’t change. We finally defeated them in the third game.
“As for Singapore, we didn’t expect them to be that good. They were quick and they passed the ball really well. Not to mention the communication they have with each other was quick and clear.
“We knew we would never win against Thailand. Even the Philippine Volcanoes crossed paths with them on multiple occasions and Thailand always prevailed. They also won the gold medal in the 2019 SEA Games.”
|[photo cred: Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU)]|
Sheila says she tried her best during all the Rising Stars’ matches, despite their defeats. Watching the other teams during the international rugby league has motivated her to train harder and improve her chemistry with her team who are all from different local rugby clubs.
Her eagerness will carry on through her upcoming games after the SEA 7s. Upon returning home, she will continue her weekly training in preparation for a tournament in Thailand in May. She will also rejoin the Makati Mavericks in a series of social games in Pampanga.
The strong influence of basketball, boxing, and volleyball may have delayed the growth of other sports like rugby in the Philippines, but it didn’t stop Sheila and the Rising Stars from tackling the challenges on and off the field.
“I think I have grown quite well as an athlete after playing in the SEA 7s. I will continue training really hard. I look forward to gaining more knowledge and experience in future games.”